A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
 
 
 
 
Mr. Peter's Connections

“Mr. Peters’ Connections” is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of an aging American.   As Miller says in his Preface, “Mr. Peters is in that suspended state of consciousness which can come upon a man taking a nap, when the mind, still close to consciousness and self-awareness, is freed to roam from real memories to conjectures, from trivialities to tragic insights, from terror of death to glorying in one’s being alive.”

 The locale, in Peter J. Davison’s set, is dreamlike: gauzy cubist skyscrapers rise behind a derelict night-club with its chairs and a player piano piled in a corner.  Incongruously, an Eames chair and stool at stage left provide a seat for Peters who, as the play begins, wanders in from the audience with a new pair of shoes in a box, and proceeds to try them on. Some of the characters are alive, like Peters and his wife, and a young couple named Leonard and Rose, who is pregnant.  Others are dead, like Peters’ earlier love, Cathy-Mae, and his brother Charley who also appears as Calvin, the manager of the premises

 As Miller observes in his Preface, “the dead in memory do not quite die and often live more vividly than in life.”  Or as T. S. Eliot writes in “Little Gidding,” “And what the dead had no speech for, when living,/ They can tell you, being dead.”  The difference between Miller’s new play and “Death of a Salesman” and “After the Fall,” both of which introduce characters from the past who are now dead, is that Mr. Peters’ dead return as the dead, not as their living selves in episodes of the past relived in the present.  The effect is eerie.  Cathy-Mae is seen as a beautiful blonde doing a strip-tease behind a scrim, but she soon “freezes” into the stiffness of the dead.  She says nothing, only, at one point, breathes as Peters listens to her chest and recalls the ocean and footsteps; then she emits a hollow, dying cry.   

 As in a dream, there are no transitions or connections; the thread that ties them together is Mr. Peters’ seeking a meaning, asking for connections, as he keeps repeating “What is the subject?”  We glean that Harry Peters retired eighteen years ago as a Pan Am pilot and before that, served as a pilot in World War II, of which he is proud: “Behind our propellers we were saving the world.”  And then he asks, “Where has all the sweetness gone?”  One thing about the war, he says, is that you had no fear, because “we were good and they were bad.”  “The thing is,” he cautions young Leonard, “not to be afraid.”  Leonard replies, “We’re afraid.”

 In the corner, under ragged blankets, sits a black bag lady, Adele, who comments on the action from time to time, or volunteers information, like a catalog of the “extras” on her mother’s Buick.  She, says Miller, “is neither dead nor alive, but simply Peters’ construct, the to-him incomprehensible black presence on the dim borders of his city life.”  She may represent Death, although her remarks are often humorous.

 There is more humor in the work than one would expect from the subject matter.  The young couple earnestly believe in the significance of what one eats or drinks.  Rose recommends bananas and Leonard, avoiding lead in the water, the cause of the downfall of the Roman empire.  Calvin the night-club manager assumes several guises, including that of Peters’ brother Charley.  At first, Calvin pretends to be a Russian musician.  Dropping the accent, he relates a history of the building in which they find themselves – formerly a bank, from behind whose polished grills customers were regarded with suspicion, then a library – and all the characters speak in whispers.  Next, it was a night-club, as suggested by the furnishing, but Vietnam, and “the little men in their black pajamas,” says Calvin, put an end to all night-clubs.

In each encounter with Calvin aka brother Charley, “the competition between them is very much alive in Peters’ mind along with its enduring absurdities,” notes Miller.  One of the humorous absurdities is the brothers’ contesting whose feet are more narrow.  The next moment can be a tragic-comic one, when Peters undergoes the older person’s temporary loss of memory, as he cannot remember his wife’s name and must run down the alphabet to recall that it is “Charlotte.”  To top that, he cannot remember his own name either.

A frightening episode is Peters’ conjecture of the man Cathy-May might have married, a bully who calls her a whore for not wearing underwear, and leads her by a dog leash. Also chilling are the stiff stances Cathy-Mae and Charley assume as the dead, especially when Charley also turns on the audience his colorless eyes. As produced by the Almeida Theatre in London and on tour, and expertly directed by Michael Blakemore, this tragic-comic, chilling, and always engrossing play ends with Peters asking another question in his search for connections.  To the strains of Brahm’s lullaby, as his child (formerly Rose) nestles up to him, speaking of love, he asks, “I wonder could that be the subject?”